Imagining Safe Places through Art

A feeling of safety is essential for wellbeing, but this feeling can be hard to realize for young children with chronic illnesses like type 1 diabetes (T1D). That is why imagining a safe place and then creating it through art is a familiar directive for art therapists—and one that Cara Lampron, Coordinator of the Therapeutic Arts program at the Berrie Center, recently used with her monthly group for girls ages 7 to 11. 

Said Cara, “There comes a lot of new and unusual experiences when diagnosed with T1D, some of which may feel scary or unsafe at first. In the beginning, everything is so new, many may feel alone. There are also a lot of overwhelming feelings, so having a safe place you can go to re-center yourself is really important.”

The group started with the girls going around a circle and discussing what the word safe means, said Cara, “then they closed their eyes and were guided in a breathing exercise. When everyone was calm and relaxed, I guided the girls to imagine going to a safe place—and to think about the sounds, smells and feelings associated with that safe place. 

Rather than draw their safe places, Cara had the girls create 3-dimensional representations using small boxes and a potpourri of different materials.  Cara explained that “the box can be utilized as a way to calm down regardless of the external situation at hand. This may or may not be related to a child’s diabetes care, but examples the girls came up with during our group included site changes, finger pricks, doctor’s visits and when they just became overwhelmed ‘by it all.’ Eventually, they can internalize this safe place so they won’t need the box.”

At the end of the group, everyone shared the safe places they created with the other children and talked about how they might utilize the boxes in the future. One girl described her box as a peaceful outdoor space in a field. Another created a representation of a dream she had while one girl made her living room, complete with a model of a TV. One girl explained that her closet at home was her safe place. 

Cara says she hopes that the art group itself will become a safe place for the girls to come and “be able to feel free and open and share without judgment.”  From a parent’s, perspective, it already is that safe place. Said Alexis Haley, mother of 7-year-old Hazel,  “Art group has been a Godsend. We’ve had amazing medical care over the last four years at The Berrie Center, but navigating the social/emotional part of growing up with T1D can be just as tough as figuring out the physical care. The opportunity on a regular basis to meet and make friends with other girls who are just like her, dealing with exactly what she is dealing with, has been invaluable.”